The most frustrating part of Budget Night for many health groups was the lack of information available at the Health Lock-Up. Budget papers were not provided to attendees, as is customary, and Departmental representatives were unable to answer questions about the detail of the Budget measures.
AMA President Brian Owler was so irritated with the disorganisation that he commented to the media that “It was insulting to have the leaders of Australia’s health organisations locked in a room with no Budget detail.” Matthew Cooke, NACCHO Chairperson, attending the lock-up with CEO Lisa Briggs was equally annoyed, questioning via Twitter the value of a lock-up without access to the Budget papers.
Given that the Health Budget held few surprises for anyone in the health sector, let alone the Department who (presumably) had advised the Government on the Budget measures, the lack of preparation for the lock-up is surprising.
Perhaps the recent influx of people from the Department of Immigration to the Department of Health (following Secretary Martin Bowles) has led to an over-zealous attempt among the bureaucrats to stop all forms of information flow across borders. Or perhaps it reflects the increased role for the central agencies of Treasury, Finance and Prime Minister and Cabinet in influencing the Budget leaving the Health Department marginalised?
Either way, health groups are likely to be pushing for inclusion in the bigger Treasury lock-up next year if they are not assured that they can get the detail they need at the health-specific event.
“William Foggin” who writes anonymously for Croakey provided this frontline description of the fiasco that was the health lock-up and his frustrated attempts to obtain details about the Budget measures. He writes:
The Health Department budget lock-up this evening was a fiasco. In past years the Department has prepared a sheet itemising all the budget measures affecting the portfolio, with fact sheets explaining more significant measures, accompanied by Ministerial media releases.
Attendees this evening were handed a two page media release from the Minister and subjected to a 24 slide Powerpoint presentation from the Secretary, with no detailed figures on anything.
During question and answers several attendees, including the president of the AMA and the CEO of Public Health Australia, raised the lack of any detailed information. The Secretary assured the audience that details would be posted on the Health website once the Treasurer’s speech had finished, “in accordance with usual practice”.
It was pointed out to him that the idea of a lock-up was that detailed information could be provided before the Treasurer made his speech.
Anyway, the ability of the audience to ask relevant questions in the absence of any detailed information was severely limited.
Perhaps the low point was the fact that the Secretary’s presentation referred to other savings of $1.7 billion – but gave no very clear indication of what made up these savings. In response to questions he was able to enumerate the larger items – including savings in the so-called “flexible funds” – but could not give a list of all the items.
Checking just now on the Health website and the portfolio budget statements have been posted, with a table of the title of budget measures and their financial impact at page 25. But there are still no fact sheets or other explanations. Presumably one has to go to Budget Paper No.2 for any more detail on the measures, and when I checked just now the Treasury website was not working – presumably melting down under demand pressure.”
“William Foggin” is the pen name of a senior health policy analyst.